Cruise industry back afloat after pandemic hit at waterline

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(NewsNation) — When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, cruise ships quickly became the poster children for where you did not want to be with a tremendously contagious virus around.

Reports of ships held in port or forced to remain at sea populated the news, and it wasn’t long before the industry was shut down while a way was found to deal with the pandemic. Cruising, a tremendously popular vacation choice before the pandemic, became something many travelers regarded with fear and suspicion even as the restrictions lifted and vaccines rolled out.

Those days appear to be gone, as Carnival Cruise lines last week had its best week ever for bookings. That’s the best week in the entire history of the company, going back beyond the “Love Boat” days. Capt. Stubing would be proud. Experts say this is a clear sign that cruising is back stronger than ever.

The CDC dropping its mask mandate for cruise ships was a large driver behind Carnival’s best week ever, which saw a double-digit increase in bookings. “People that were on the fence first timers or novice cruisers they’re now booking in droves and now were seeing more families getting ready hit the water for destinations as well,” said Steve Chiron, known as The Cruise Guy.

Cruise lines are now running at near capacity. Greg Franceski has been cruising for decades with his wife. They stopped when the industry shut down, but have now gone back and say their most recent cruise was the best experience they’ve had. “The crew was happy, jumping with joy to be back working and so the service was over the top. We’ve always found excellent service, but it was notably better than it’s ever been,” Franceski told NewsNation’s Ileana Diaz.

Like other cruise passengers, Franceski and his wife had to follow protocols. They were vaccinated and tested negative for COVID-19 before they got on the ship. They say cruising now, without the mask mandate, has been welcomed by most families and gives everyone a greater sense of normalcy aboard ship.

That feeling of safety is evident in the industry’s overall comeback. Most cruise lines are finding bookings at or above pre-pandemic levels. According to AAA, 41 percent of American travelers are considering booking a cruise, and 43 percent of travelers are satisfied with the industry’s response to the pandemic.

Chiron has been on 14 cruises since June 2021 and has never gotten COVID-19 on board a ship. He said cruising is safer now than ever, and that’s attracting more people. “A lot has been learned since the shutdown in March 2020, and cruise lines have worked hard to make the experience safe but more enjoyable,” he said.

In total, 22 of 23 Carnival cruise ships are back in the water. While the CDC has dropped the on-board mask mandate, some cruise lines still require them in their theaters and casinos on board.

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